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Column 316free world. It is in the definite interest of the West and of humanity in general to support him. However, we must be mindful of the fact that this huge change will create huge tensions. Nature abhors a vacuum and we must therefore proceed with care. That means that we must proceed just as outlined in the Gracious Speech. In helping the Soviet world to make this enormous change in such a short time we must look at matters such as economic and financial advice and even at assisting in understanding the present value of money and how to make the Soviet currency convertible. We must look at ways of encouraging them to start up and build equity markets and at ways to internationalise their products.
Secondly, we must support them with financial credits and with the application of technology to basic industries. We must encourage still further East-West trade. We must help with education, especially in management and in the whole culture of new enterprises.
We should also offer help about how to distribute products in such a vast and often inhospitable part of the world. I understand that about 50 per cent. of the food produced in the Soviet Union rots before it ever reaches the consumer. That is a huge amount of food. At the moment, the Soviet Union faces rationing, and almost 100 per cent. rationing is forecast by the end of the year. If the distribution chains could be improved, the Soviet Union could almost double the food supplies that it now enjoys.
Thirdly, we must co-operate with the Soviet Union on balanced verifiable and integrated disarmament. Fourthly, we must inspire the Soviet people by example on human rights, inflation, the environment and the operation of a multi-party democracy.
The last part of the Gracious Speech on which I wish to comment deals with Europe, and especially the exchange rate mechanism of the European monetary system. That of course implies a federal state eventually rather than a national state. It is important for us to join. We must therefore look seriously at that question and ensure that we understand exactly what sort of Europe we are joining. Which Europe do we wish to join given the huge changes that are taking place? Is it the Europe that ends at the east German border or is it the Europe that extends to the Ural mountains?
What kind of Europe will it be? Will it be full of national states or will it be federal? Will it be capitalist or Socialist? Will it be dominated by a united Germany or will it have a balanced distribution of power? The huge changes that we have seen has great importance for us. It is in the interests of Britain to join and in my view there is no question about that. But we must do so at a speed that is commensurate with a pragmatic and careful approach. We must ensure that it is the Europe that we wish to join.
Several of my right hon. Friends and some Opposition Members have talked about Europe and said that of course a huge change has taken place. I agree with them about change, but it should make us most careful.
The European exchange rate mechanism is dominated by the deutschmark and it is anti-deflationary, for the deutschmark. Unfortunately all the economies in that mechanism are not always in phase so what is in the interests of the deutschmark is not always or necessarily in the interests of sterling. Of course we must join the exchange rate mechanism, but only on terms which are right for our country and for Europe, and which are pragmatic and timely.
Column 317I urge the House to support the Gracious Speech, which, as I have said, has been recommended by a giant among giants. It should be supported.
Mr. Frank Haynes (Ashfield) : I have been here since 10 minutes to 3 and I have listened to just about every speech. I am going to be a little different. I marched down the corridor to the other place to hear Her Majesty read the Gracious Speech. Coming back, I got it at the Vote Office and read it. I listened to what the Secretary of State had to say a lot earlier on--a long way back--about crime. However, this Queen's Speech is a crime against the nation and the people. That is what it is all about. I hope that the Secretary of State and the Government will take my suggestions on board. We have heard a lot about crime and what the Government are trying to do about it. They have been saying the same thing since 1979. They have poured money into the police forces every year, increasing the numbers and the equipment that the police have so that they can do their job more efficiently, and they have increased their wages over and above those of ambulance men. Millions of pounds have been poured in, but crime is rocketing. I maintain that they have got it wrong. They are doing their sums wrong. They have got their job wrong. Some Ministers who stand at that Dispatch Box should be ashamed of themselves because they are not doing their jobs. They ought to drive themselves in the direction of the prevention of crime. All they are doing is increasing crime and putting more and more work on the police forces, who are doing a first-class job, but all the crime is passing them by, so the situation gets worse and worse.
I point out to the Secretary of State that we are supposed to talk about fairness in this place--fairness for the people out there. The Home Secretary does not set a good example. I remember that at half past 2 one morning, when I was the last Member on his feet to speak on the Firearms (Amendment) Bill, he tipped off the Chair that the Government were to move the closure, so I did not get in to make my contribution. If that is fairness from one who is now the Home Secretary, how can I believe that the people will get fairness with his kind of legislation?
The Queen's Speech deals with involving and supporting local authorities and helping them to do their job. Since 1979--the Queen's Speech continues this--the Government have been slowly but surely destroying local authorities. They are taking away the rights of people, for example, in my constituency, where the local authority works on behalf of the people in the community. Slowly but surely, they are introducing laws to take the powers of local authorities. As each year goes by, their legislation makes that worse.
The Government are destroying local authorities and local democracy. They brag about it at the Dispatch Box and when they go on television, supposedly talking to the people about how they are doing the right thing because they are cutting public expenditure. The people in my community are suffering because of the Government's activities. They are privatising many local authority functions. When this happens, we find that the community does not get the kind of service that it had when the local authority was responsible. I have known local authorities that emptied dustbins once a week. People are now lucky to get that done once a fortnight. That is the kind of thing
Column 318that is going on, and they call that progress. They are going backwards--they are in reverse. I do not know about double de-clutching, mentioned by the hon. Member for Winchester (Mr. Browne), but the Government are going the other way. We will put that right when we are in government : make no mistake about that. It is shocking that my local authority has not built a house since this lot came in. What is the end result of that? Along with the local authority in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Mansfield (Mr. Meale)--I remind the Minister that I represent Ashfield, and my hon. Friend and I come from Nottinghamshire, next door to each other--we had a policy of building bungalows for elderly people. However, we could not build them without some finance from central funds. Elderly people were put in these bungalows. They vacated two and three-bedroomed houses which could then be made available to those who wanted them--couples with families and couples who had just got married but who are now at the end of a massive queue, all because of the Government's policies on local authorities and on providing proper housing and accommodation.
The only thing that this Conservative Government are bothered about is selling council houses. Now our stock dwindles every year and I do not know how these people will manage. I went to see the vigil at the end of Downing street last week. I do not know whether the Home Secretary went to have a word with the people from Shelter who organised it. Was he concerned about those youngsters who live in cardboard boxes every night? I bet he has never been in a cardboard box in his life. He is not responding, so he has not, and he does not know what it is like.
I want to say a word about the Coal Industry Bill. I think that it is shocking the way the Government are going on. They are preparing for the privatisation of the coal industry. I am old enough to remember the bad old days of private ownership in the mining industry, before nationalisation. I stand here as an experienced collier who spent 35 years in the pit before coming to this place, so I know what I am talking about. I know that, when this Chamber is full, all those youngsters sat on the Government Benches do not know what working is or what pit mining is about.
I shall tell the Minister what used to go on under private enterprise. The owners used to ignore safety. No. 1 was production, No. 2 was earnings and No. 3 was safety. Nationalisation turned that on its head and made safety first, and that is where it should be. If we are not careful, with the Government wanting to privatise the coal industry, we shall go back to having next to no safety in the mining industry because of the old profit motive. That will be the result of privatisation in all its forms.
The mining industry can look forward only to a rough time from that lot on the other side of the House, the Government, and that is why we must get them out of office as soon as possible. We must ensure that we are on the other side of the House, on the Government Benches, so that we can put things right for those who deserve a fair deal. We already have private mines, and most of them are small holes in a hill. There are numerous private mines in Derbyshire and consequently the Derbyshire people know all about their operations. A limit of 30 employees per private mine was introduced for safety reasons, but this lot
Column 319--the Government--are talking about 150. That is scandalous. That shows that the Government could not care less about safety in the mining industry.
I can prove my point by saying that there are fewer inspectors entering mines now than there were five years ago. The Government have cut public expenditure on Her Majesty's inspectors and as a result both men and management are not being examined properly to ensure that safe working practices prevail. It is not surprising that accidents, especially fatal ones, have increased during the year. It is an extremely serious matter, but the Government could not care less. When my hon. Friends and I advance these arguments, Ministers either stand at the Dispatch Box or sit in their places with grins all over their faces. As I have said, these are serious matters. I see that the Minister of State, Home Office is shaking his head. He should remember that he is a Home Office Minister and has collective responsibility for the mines and quarries inspectorate. Let him not shake his head at me. I am an experienced miner and I know what I am talking about. I know what is going on in my constituency. The Minister does not have a pit in his backyard, but I bet that he has a double garage with a couple of cars. There are people back home in my constituency who have to walk because they cannot afford to go on a flippin' bus. They are suffering because of the Government's cuts. The Minister is responsible for that because of collective responsibility. I tell him again that he should stop shaking his head. I shall take no notice of that. The Minister and his right hon. and hon. Friends do not like home truths.
Mr. Haynes : No, I shall not give way. There is not enough time to permit me to do so. The Minister will have about 20 minutes in which to reply to the debate, so he can shut up for the moment. I tell the Minister, the Secretary of State and you, Mr. Speaker, now that you are back in the Chair, that not one of you has an opencast mine in your backyard. That is true, is it not? I have them back home in my constituency. The people I represent back home have had a bellyful of opencast mining, and they have had it for years. They want to get rid of it. They have to put up with dust and noise for 24 hours a day. Shot blasting takes place during normal working hours while the poor beggars who work nights are stuck in bed. Of course, the Government are not bothered about that. All that they are bothered about is the old brass. They are intent on filling the pockets of a few, and one of their policies to achieve that is income tax reductions. The Government look after their own lot, but they ignore the workers.
The Government had better take note that there is much concern about the suggestion that there should be an extension of opencast mining. As I have said, it takes place in my constituency and on the borders of it. My constituents are suffering because of the noise and the dust that is associated with it.
I shall refer briefly to the National Health Service-- [Interruption.] You see, Mr. Speaker, the Minister thinks that is all a big joke. Is he laughing at me? Perhaps he is talking to the Secretary of State and laughing when he should be listening to me. I am trying to make a serious
Column 320contribution to the debate. I represent 66,000 electors and there are 103,000 people within the constituency. They are all concerned about what is going on and I am seeking forcefully to express their concerns.
I hold a surgery every Saturday morning, and many of my constituents come to tell me that they have been told by their doctor that they cannot have a certain drug because it has been blacklisted by the Secretary of State for Health. The Minister of State, Home Office was formerly a DHSS Minister. There are many people who need a certain drug if they are to remain alive. One of my constituents came to see me in a wheelchair. He could not bloomin' walk. He had been told that he would have to use an alternative drug. His doctor had said that the so-called alternative would not do him any good and that if he wanted the appropriate drug, with which he had been supplied before the relevant regulations were changed, he would have to pay for it.
That is how the Government treat people who probably served their country during the first world war. They treat war widows in the same bloomin' way. You should see Ministers, Mr. Speaker, when my hon. Friends and I talk about war widows. They are ducking and diving all over the place. Once again, they should be ashamed of themselves. All they are interested in is ducking out of paying the widows properly. It is all right for the bosses, because they can get what they want. As for the lower-paid worker--the real worker--the Government take the view that he can have the crumbs after they and the bosses have eaten the cake. That is going on now, but there will be a switch when we, the Opposition, move over to the other side of the Chamber and occupy the Government Benches. Let no one make any mistake about that.
I have received serious representations about the discharge from hospitals of the mentally disabled. It is felt that they should be in the community. There is a real problem with housing those people, but someone has to take on the job. That can be difficult when both adults in the home go out to work--yet they must both work because of the Government's policies. They need to work if they are to have what they need to live. There are real problems with discharges from mental health institutions. I compliment the district health authority in my area, which does a marvellous job. We need some coppers--not police officers, but cash--so that we can do the things that need to be done for those people.
When I was coming to the House yesterday, I saw a small placard at a news stand that said, "How to retire in comfort." I did not bother to get off the bus to get a copy, but it is evident from the Queen's Speech that the Government want everybody to contribute to a private pension--they are private barmy--so that they can look after themselves in their old age. There are millions of elderly people on a pension. It would be ridiculous to suggest that they should contribute to a private pension scheme, and they certainly could not afford it, yet the Government are not prepared to look after them properly. Elderly people in my constituency are suffering, but the Government will not listen when we try to tell them that. Every year, before the Budget, there is a lobby of the House by the elderly, yet they cannot even come in and have a cup of tea. That is how the Government treat pensioners. We suggested the use of Westminster Hall if the weather was inclement, which it usually is in February or March, but we were told that it could be used only for
Column 321special occasions. Those elderly constituents who have come to lobby the Government about a decent pension so that they can live decently have to wait outside.
Almost every hon. Member who has spoken today has mentioned drugs. I have been here almost from the beginning of the debate, and I have heard hon. Members expressing concern about imported drugs. I know that the Minister is concerned about the problem, because I have heard him say so many times. It is a real problem among the youth of our nation, yet it is the youths who will become the adults of tomorrow. They will be the workers and the people who will run the nation when I have my retirement book, which is not that long away. We will be dependent upon those youngsters. There is a problem with crack coming to this country from America. I remember that, not so many years ago, the number of Customs officers was reduced by 1,000 and I questioned that at the time. I was lucky to be called during Prime Minister's Question Time.
During that Prime Minister's Question Time, I told the right hon. Lady that the number of Customs officers had been reduced and she took it on board. She acted, money was made available and the numbers were increased. They should be increased even further because we must closely monitor the problem. It is becoming worse, and the Minister knows it. He attends seminars and presents publications about it. It is a problem for the young and I hope that we will do something about it. If the Government are prepared to grab it by the scruff of the neck, I will give them all the assistance they need to do so. 9.8 pm
Mr. Michael Lord (Suffolk, Central) : I will not attempt to follow the hon. Member for Ashfield (Mr. Haynes). I enjoyed the presentation, if not the content, of his speech. We now have television cameras in the Chamber and if ever we reach the stage where Oscars are presented, the hon. Gentleman will have little competition in winning the first award.
The contagious habit of doughnutting seems to have reached the Opposition Benches. The Opposition Whips do not usually sit where they are sitting now. However, they make a charming group and no doubt we can expect similar occurrences in the future.
Our debate is entitled, "Rights, freedoms and responsibilities" and I want to deal with them as they affect the international and national scene in my constituency.
Internationally, perhaps the most important issue that we face is what is happening in eastern Europe. They are exciting developments and, in so far as they affect rights and freedoms, they are exciting for the people of eastern Europe who are emerging into democracy for the first time and enjoying their new freedom.
However, we should beware of euphoria. One of my hon. Friends referred, in endearing terms, to "Gorby". We all want the changes to succeed, but they have introduced the greatest uncertainty that Europe has had for 40 years and we must tread carefully. It is vital for the Government to protect the freedom and democracy that Britain enjoys
Column 322and which has been the beacon for those people now emerging from eastern Europe. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister is right to proceed with caution in the negotiations in Europe to ensure that we gain all that we can but do not take any risks.
On the national scene, I make no apology for referring again to those unfortunate haemophiliacs who have contracted AIDS. Several hon. Members have referred to them tonight, and we know that more money has now been made available. But a Government who say that the NHS is safe in their hands must ensure that those who use the service should be safe in its hands. Those haemophiliacs who contracted AIDS have done so through no fault of their own, and that is one of the most tragic things that can happen to any group of people. If the Government do not move substantially and ensure that all the financial cares of those people are removed, a deep stain will remain not only on the Government but on the House of Commons. We must strip away the legal nonsense, get to the heart of the matter and give those people the real assistance that they need now.
The hon. Member for Ashfield mentioned war widows. It is wrong that those who lost their husbands before 1973 should be treated on a basis different from those who have lost their husbands since. It is iniquitous, and there is no excuse for it. We are talking about rights and freedoms and they should have their rights. We are talking about responsibilities, and it is the Government's responsibility to do all that they can to remove the anomaly and ensure that all war widows receive the same pension and the same treatment. That is only right.
We in Suffolk also have rights and responsibilities. Suffolk is often thought of as a pleasant part of the world, and it is. It is the kind of place that people visit for their holidays and they may think that there is little need there. But we, like the inner cities and the urban areas, have our problems. For too long, Suffolk has not had a fair deal from the Government on its rate support grant. It is time that places such as East Anglia and my constituency had a fair deal. I have referred many times in the House to the major problem of the A140 which runs north to south through the centre of my constituency. We want it to be made into a dual carriageway and we expect an announcement on that later this year. I hope that we shall have good news on that before the end of the year.
I refer finally to responsibility--particularly personal responsibility-- and to standards. All that this House does is legislate, but however much we may do that, we cannot control the way in which one person deals with another. Tonight we have debated drugs and violent crime. We might also debate child abuse or, on a lesser level, litter or sensible driving. On an international scale, we debate the problems of pollution. We may try to legislate for them all, but at the end of the day it comes down to the way in which the individual behaves.
As to crime, we may debate punishment and prisons, but ultimately it is the way in which people deal with each other that is crucial. That comes down to catching them young ; to schools, church and family life ; to what young people watch on television ; and to the atmosphere as a whole that is created in our country. My hon. Friend the Member for Westminster, North (Mr. Wheeler) spoke of the role of the citizen, and I agree with his comments. To emphasise my point, I repeat that, although the House can
Column 323legislate and legislate, at the end of the day all of us in this great country must learn to respect each other and to treat one another as we would wish others to treat us.
Perhaps my final words should be these. Tonight, we are debating rights, freedom and responsibility. Perhaps for all of us the most important of those is responsibility.
Mr. George Galloway (Glasgow, Hillhead) : Having been present in the Chamber since 2.30 pm, I wish that I had time to follow Conservative Members along the great philosophical boulevards down which they have taken us today. In a most extraordinary speech, the hon. Member for Winchester (Mr. Browne) described the Gracious Speech--I believe that he must have been referring to she who ordered it to be written rather than she who read it in another place--as being written by a giant among giants. The hon. Gentleman informed any putative challenger that it would be no less than a sin to challenge the author of the Gracious Speech. The hon. Member for Clwyd, North-West (Sir A. Meyer) had better watch out, because purgatory clearly awaits him if he goes ahead with his well-trailed challenge.
The hon. Member for Cannock and Burntwood (Mr. Howarth) also spoke about sin. In a homily delivered with all the piety of the Reverend Jimmy Swaggart, the hon. Gentleman informed the House that his idea of freedom is to allow religious organisations to bid for television franchises under the broadcasting Bill--so Jimmy Swaggart could indeed be beamed to television screens in this country.
The hon. Member for Cornwall, North (Mr. Neale) revealed that his idea of freedom is to reproduce the Cheltenham GCHQ battle in his own constituency.
We heard other tantalising ideas, too, but I have not time to pursue any of them. The only issue that I have time to address is the country from which I come. Listening to the speeches made yesterday and today, I was struck with great resonance by the extent to which this is a very English House of Commons. The whole occasion of the state opening, the panoply and the deliverances from Government Members are so very English. The speech made this evening by the hon. Member for Thanet, South (Mr. Aitken), whom I hold in high regard, was also a very English, nationalist speech. It embodied no concept of there being more than one nation in this state and that the others, too, might have national aspirations.
When it comes to rights, freedoms and responsibilities, the Government should genuflect a little more towards the rights and freedoms of the Scottish people to assume more responsibility for their own affairs. Clearly they demand it. At election after election they have demanded it. At the last general election, the Government were reduced to a risible rump in Scotland. Not even a football team, but a mere two taxi-loads of Scottish Conservatives were returned to Parliament.
Throughout today's debate--Heaven knows, I have sat through virtually every minute of it--not one Scottish Conservative Member made an appearance in the Chamber, although on this of all days of debate on the Gracious Speech it would have been possible to discuss Scottish government. The Scottish constitutional convention, which represents almost all the social and political
Column 324forces in Scotland, is deliberating about the kind of self-government and the kind of Parliament that the Scottish nation wants, but as far as Conservative Members are concerned it might as well not be there.
The Gracious Speech has paid no attention to Scotland. The Scottish people will remember that fact when the time comes--and the time is not far off now.
Mr. Pat Wall (Bradford, North) : On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I well understand that you have to balance your selection of speakers and interests, and that you have to introduce time limits. As one who speaks in the House regularly, I also understand that hon. Members must take their turn in the list. What I do not understand is why a 10-minute rule was introduced between 6 pm and 8 pm to enable as many as possible of the large number who wished to speak to do so--a rule with which the House co- operated--and then, from 8 pm onwards, hon. Members were allowed to make speeches lasting for 20 minutes or more. That seems grossly unfair to hon. Members who have sat for five or six hours hoping to participate--even when the speeches were as good as that of my hon. Friend the Member for Ashfield (Mr. Haynes), which I greatly appreciated.
Mr. Speaker : I sympathise very much with the hon. Gentleman, but the procedure is now in the Standing Orders. I could have imposed a 10- minute limit between 7 pm and 9 pm, or between 6 pm and 8 pm. I chose the latter course because I hoped that that would indicate to those who spoke after 8 pm that they, too, should speak for approximately 10 minutes, or perhaps a little more. That happened yesterday and, as I said earlier today, no fewer than 28 hon. Members were called. I am sorry that the hon. Gentleman has not been called today and I shall bear it in mind on the next occasion.
Ms. Jo Richardson (Barking) : The debate has been interesting, thoughtful and at times very entertaining. I do not wish, Mr. Speaker, to take away your right to tell the House how many speakers have been called but, if my counting is correct, there were 22 speeches from the Back Benches. Those speeches have covered a variety of matters that could loosely be placed under the heading "Rights, Freedoms and Responsibilities" --the Health Service, the prison system, the voluntary sector, ports, local authorities and the like. I was interested to hear the Home Secretary say that the Opposition had chosen what he described as "a truly Conservative theme". That was rather a cheek, in view of the extent to which the Government have limited freedoms and, in a sense, responsibilities over the past 10 years.
Much has been said about local and regional government. Let me tell my hon. Friends the Members for Glasgow, Hillhead (Mr. Galloway) and for Dundee, East (Mr. McAllion) that the Labour Government will present a Bill for a directly elected Scottish assembly early in its first Parliament : that is a priority. Local and regional government have been attacked and denuded of responsibilities, as my hon. Friend the Member for Ashfield (Mr. Haynes) said : it has been deprived of resources since the present Government took office.
Local government provided useful and popular services. The Greater London council provided them, but the Government abolished the GLC. At a time when local
Column 325government is so vital, it is a cause for concern that many good and dedicated people who in the past would have been glad to work in local government are reluctant to do so. Many of the rights that were vested in local government have vanished. Trade union rights have been viciously curtailed. The Government vendetta will go on and on. Those who need the most help--women, the ethnic minorities and the disabled--need help to raise their standards to the level that others enjoy. Their limited rights, however, have been eroded by the Government--for example, their right to affordable housing and their rights to training, jobs and services. Their right to decent health care, free at the point of need, has also been eroded.
One of the Prime Minister's favourite sayings is that people must stand on their own two feet, but far too many people do not have even a toehold, let alone the space and the opportunity to put their two feet on the ground. There are serious inequalities between north and south, men and women, black people and white people, the able bodied and those with disabilities and between those who have and those who have not.
It is, however, increasingly apparent that the "haves" in Britain are becoming more and more uneasy and uncomfortable. They are beginning to recognise that society cannot be fair unless each and every one of its citizens enjoys positive rights. They now recognise that positive action needs to be taken to compensate for past discrimination, so that a large number of people can take advantage of the rights that others enjoy.
The formal removal of discrimination by means of legislation--there has not been much of that from the Government--is not sufficient to enable all our citizens to have access to real choice. The right to call one's home one's own is entirely meaningless if there is insufficient money to pay the mortgage and the home is repossessed. The right to work is meaningless if a parent does not earn enough to pay for child care. The right to health care is meaningless if there is a shortage of dialysis machines. The right to visit friends or to go to an evening class or the cinema is meaningless if one is afraid to walk home in the dark, or if public transport is not available. It is the Government's responsibility to provide the framework within which citizens can realise their potential. Without the basics, the rights mean absolutely nothing.
As for the right to a job, unemployment and low pay lead to poverty, homelessness, ill health and misery. Attacks on employees' rights have punished in particular those who have been out of work for a long time and women. That is unjust and intolerable. It will lead to great problems in the 1990s when Britain will need women in work. They will be needed far more than they have been since the end of the second world war.
The Government have jeopardised women's ability to work in a number of ways, but I do not have time to refer to them all. I shall list just one or two examples. They prevent married women from registering as unemployed and therefore stop them taking up many training opportunities. They have attacked parents' rights to affordable child care by taxing workplace nurseries. They have attacked women's rights to decent pay. Women make up almost half the work force but earn just 75 per cent. of the average man's wage. What is left of the wages councils now sets only a basic minimum rate of pay. Their decimation in the past decade has set women back years. More than 90 per cent. of employees covered by wages
Column 326councils are women who are among the lowest of our low-paid. The Government's response is a long-standing commitment to abolish wages councils altogether. That is their contribution to the much- heralded future demographic changes.
In addition to creating difficulties for women in employment, the Government refuse to provide the support that women need for their families. For example, they have shamefully blocked the EEC directive on parental leave which would have been of so much value to women and their partners. We realise that the next Labour Government will have to meet the overwhelming desire for child care by channelling far greater public and private resources to ensure that child care is treated no longer as a privilege or a perk, but as a necessity to enable parents to exercise their right to work. The next Labour Government will help local authorities to provide comprehensive and integrated care for children under 14.
Caring is not just about children. We need to establish rights for those who care for elderly or disabled people. Therefore, the next Labour Government will replace invalid care allowance with a proper benefit paid at the full basic pension rate to ensure proper support for carers, with laundry, shopping, meals on wheels, and, most importantly, respite care. Those measures will enable people to enjoy freedom of choice about how to combine home, family and employment. Our plans for comprehensive child care will be of great benefit to children.
Much has been said, not least by my right hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley), about the need for safety on the streets. Many right hon. and hon. Members on both sides of the House mentioned the need for greater policing. But the callous individualism which is the legacy of the present Government has led to a brutal and brutalising society. Women come to my surgery--I am sure that hon. Gentlemen have the same experience, and if they have not perhaps the women do not tell them--and tell me that they are too scared to go out alone at night. They are too scared to visit friends, so they feel trapped. Often women say to me, "I am like a prisoner in my flat".
The dereliction of the urban environment is a scandal. We have to put resources back into the community to make sure that people are not trapped and that local authorities have resources for better street lighting and better, more responsive transport services that women can use, especially at night.
We need more staff on buses. I receive constant complaints from women, elderly people and others about one-person operated buses and the deregulation of buses. We need staff on London Underground instead of machines which cannot help anyone. A machine cannot answer a call for help, but a person can.
Much has been said about housing, and some Conservative Members have talked about the extension of the right to a house, but I think of the people who are condemned to live in bed-and-breakfast accommodation, often for a long time. That is not a pleasant prospect. They have no prospect or hope of an immediate home because the Government have stopped house-building and have strangled local authorities' role in it.
What we need, and what a Labour Government will do, is to consider rationally the question of housing. We will not allocate a small amount of money for the homeless, which the Government did last week and which will not solve the problem, but will tackle it radically so that the
Column 327118,000 households who are now living in bed -and-breakfast accommodation have a right to homes of their own. Among those 118,000 households, a generation of children has grown up in damp and dangerous conditions. They were born in bed-and-breakfast accommodation, and it is a scandal that we should have such conditions in Britain today.
The problems of single homeless people are equally appalling. Increasingly, the young, vulnerable and mentally ill are living on the streets. I could go on about the deprivation that the Government have heaped on the heads of far too many people, denuding them of any basic rights that they had and giving them no support to enable them to help themselves, but I want to use the last few minutes to make one or two other observations.
I mentioned the poor position of many women. I should like to ask the Minister of State about his ministerial committee on women's issues. I take issue with the phrase because I think that all issues are women's issues. Issues cannot be divided into men's or women's. I should like to know exactly what that ministerial committee--which is headed by a man and which, I understand from its latest press release, is composed of 12 people, 10 of them men and two women--has done. It does not appear to meet very often. From time to time, it has issued edicts from on high about the necessity for workplace nurseries to be provided by employers, but it has said nothing about what the Government will do to provide comprehensive child care. Although I have not been able to obtain any minutes, I understand that it had a meeting about domestic violence. All that we saw was an article in The Independent last August, which I think was written by the Minister, saying what an awful thing domestic violence was. We know that, but we want to know what the Government will do to help. By contrast, the next Labour Government will have a ministry for women, which will be meaningful. It will monitor what Departments do to ensure that women have an opportunity to participate in decision-making.
A spin-off from televising Parliament is that many people have been stunned by how few women there are in Parliament. The television cameras show the rows of dark and grey-suited men and pick out one or two women here and there.
I was slightly aggrieved and hurt when, in his opening remarks, the Home Secretary kept referring to right hon. and hon. Gentlemen, when I was sitting in his line of sight. I did not think that I was so invisible, but perhaps he is blinder than I thought.
In conclusion, I wish to make a serious point. We have all been excited, interested and expectant about what is happening in eastern Europe, where we have seen people grasping at and asking for their freedoms. That is a good sign, and we have all been encouraged by it. People in those countries have got up and said, "Enough is enough". But the constant echo from the British people is, "She has gone too far", and, "This Government have gone too far". The Government have assumed an authoritarian air during the past 10 years and people are uneasy about that. I warn the Government that the parallels with eastern Europe will not be lost on the people of Britain. We want the Government to provide people with a vision of a better society, and of a partnership between
Column 328local government and the citizens whom it is there to serve. That is what the next Labour Government will try to do after these 10 wasted years.
The Minister of State, Home Office (Mr. John Patten) : We appreciate the kind remarks of welcome by right hon. and hon. Members on both sides of the House for my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary to his new post. I thank the hon. Member for Caithness and Sutherland (Mr. Maclennan) for the kind remark that he made in my direction. I think that that is the most northerly part of the country from which I have been paid a compliment.
I am happy to be limited to a 20-minute speech this evening, as was the hon. Member for Barking (Ms. Richardson). It is right that Front Bench spokesmen should be limited in time when other right hon. and hon. Members have been limited. Inevitably, however, I shall not be able to reply to all the points raised in the 22 or 23 speeches made today.
We have had an interesting and wide-ranging debate. We have gone from one end of the alphabet to the other--or at least from "A" to "T". For the As we had the hon. Member for Ashfield (Mr. Haynes). I do not know what got into the hon. Gentleman this evening. He let some of his old-world charm and courtesy slip. I think that it was a double first for him. It was the first time that I have heard him launch one of his splendid personal attacks and not let the person reply. His main attack on the Home Office was that we were not fulfilling a statutory responsibility for the inspectorate of mines. The Home Office does not have that responsibility and has never had it. I am surprised that the hon. Member for Ashfield is so ignorant about the mining industry.
At the other end of the alphabet, my hon. Friend the Member for Thanet, South (Mr. Aitken), in one of the funniest and most pointed speeches that I have heard in the Chamber for some time, made a vigorous attack on everything from Delors to stalking donkeys. I think the whole House enjoyed that.
The hon. Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heffer) made an excellent attack on his own Front Bench. It is no wonder that the Spectator gave him its Back Bencher of the year award yesterday. I am sure that the general management committee in Walton would have been proud to see him there, served by waiters wearing white gloves, and that the excellent silver cup that he was given will go down well at an auction at the Walton Labour party summer fe te next year. Three principles underline my right hon. and learned Friend's approach, as Home Secretary, to rights, freedoms and
responsibilities. First, rights and responsibilities go together, but the order should be responsibilities and rights. Secondly, we think that all citizens should share the same rights and responsibilities, and that there are no special cases for anyone in our society--there is no opting out of the duties of being a British citizen. Thirdly, rights and responsibilities are there for all of us under the law, as made in this place.
Those three themes have run through many of the speeches that we have heard today, including those by my hon. Friends the Members for Ashford (Mr. Speed), for Saffron Walden (Mr. Haselhurst)--I have noted his arguments about the voluntary sector--for Nuneaton
Column 329(Mr. Stevens), for Cornwall, North (Mr. Neale), for Cannock and Burntwood (Mr. Howarth), for Winchester (Mr. Browne) and for Suffolk, Central (Mr. Lord). Those three fundamental assertions are at the core of my right hon. and learned Friend's philosophy, which he set out so clearly in his opening speech.
The hon. Member for Barking spoke about women's issues and criticised the fact that the Government have a ministerial group on women's issues. I suppose that, logically, she should therefore criticise her own suggestion that the Labour party should have a Ministry for women. I can tell her, as she clearly does not know much about this, that the ministerial group on women's issues was set up as the Government's response to the United Nations discussions in the early and mid-1980s.
Mr. Patten : The hon. Lady asked for some information and I am giving it to her, so she should pay attention. The first hon. Member to chair the ministerial group on women's issues was my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary when he was Minister of State. I am now the chairman.
It is this Government, aided and advised by the ministerial group on women's issues, who have provided independent taxation for married women-- something that the Labour party promised for years but never delivered. Independent taxation was delivered by the Treasury, not some special high- falutin' Ministry for women. Through the ministerial group on women's issues, the Government have improved opportunities for women in public life --for example, by doing all that we can to get more women on the lists for public appointments. We have introduced equal opportunities proofing for all civil servants so that new items of policy or legislation prepared in the Civil Service take account of women's needs. The Government have stressed the rights of mothers to make their own choice about whether to work. It is their choice. We have provided for the support of higher quality standards for child care through our widely welcomed five-point plan for child care which was issued on 11 April 1989. In the past four or five years, helped by the Government, there has been an extraordinary, quiet revolution. About 1.5 million women have returned to work or joined the work force for the first time. A substantial number of them are self- employed business women. They did not return to work because they were coerced by a recruiting poster saying, "Your country needs you." They made a free choice and, in doing so, made provision for child care, aided by Government taxation policies and Government policies on child care.
The ministerial group on women's issues has laid great stress on women's right to safety. I agree with the hon. Member for Barking that crime and the fear of crime detract from freedom. We have issued special non- patronising advice to women and men to try to reduce women's fear of crime. That was welcomed by the hon. Member for Halifax (Mrs. Mahon). I do not see the hon. Lady in her place, but it was reported in the Daily Express that she welcomed our advice, so it must be true. We have encouraged crime prevention initiatives with the